08 March 2011

Ampersand

Ampersand (&) Alpha Art by Design Ideas  Silver Plated 1/2 Inch Round Charm Ampersand Symbol '&' (1/2 Inch)  Wood Letters & Numbers 4 Inch Letter & Ampersand

The ampersand or "&" is a curious thing in our language that dates back to the 1st century A.D.

Originally, it was a ligature of the letters E and T.

What's a ligature? In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes are joined as a single glyph. Ligatures usually replace consecutive characters sharing common components.


Suffice it to say, the ampersand is the most common one we use in English.

"Et" is Latin for "and" - as in et cetera, which is such a mouthful that we feel the need to shorten even that to etc. It can actually be further shortened as &c.

I suppose if you look closely at the modern ampersand, you can still see the E and T hiding in there depending on the font. (Try Trebuchet MS.)

It is so commonly used that it is now considered more of a logogram than a ligature.

Is it a letter? No.

The dollar sign, $, is another possible ligature/logogram. One theory is that it came from a ligature used for "pesos" and the Spanish peseta, but that's not for sure.

The word ampersand itself is a conflation of the phrase "and per se and" which has the crazy meaning of "and [the symbol which] by itself [is] and."  That's pretty bizarre.

The ampersand is one thing I was never able to make with a pen. Mine always looked like little pretzels. Start at the bottom right corner, make a line up and to the left or reverse a 3 with a dash through it, from top to bottom twice. Far easier just to hit Shift-7.

All this pondering on ampersands came from a curious little book by the wonderfully odd author Craig Conley titled Ampersand.

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